Friday, July 30, 2010

Parallel Universe: The Broad Canvas of Science Fiction Romance by KS Augustin

Welcome to 2010's Parallel Universe and many thanks to Heather for inviting me here. When she told the participants that this year's theme is "diversity", I didn't know where to begin. Diversity is exactly the reason I write SFR, and I'm not just talking about the diversity of characters, their traits and their sexuality. I'm actually being a bit selfish and talking about my diversity. Let me explain.

I have a very low boredom threshold and ideas are always popping into my head. SFR gives me such a broad canvas that I can come up with a variety of ideas and work them out through the genre. What I love about SFR is how it never constrains me. It also allows me to posit certain truths without having to walk the minefield of cultural sensitivities. For example, the majority of my characters are coloured. And why not? We already outnumber the white-skinned humans on this planet. Why shouldn't the future of a human-inhabited galaxy also be the same? Yet, the Republic (to take one of my universes as an example) is sufficiently divorced from current considerations that I can choose how I portray exploitation, discrimination and politics without somebody calling foul because I'm not citing history correctly. With SFR, I create my universe's own history.

With SFR, I can also afford to make my heroes more thoughtful. They don't require five hours' hard practice a day with heavy equipment to learn how to beat a villain into the ground. Maybe they only need to push a button. Or say a word. Under such circumstances, I can make both my heroes and heroines intellectual, thoughtful, even more vulnerable as a result of that, without taking away their intrinsic power. The men can be cripples, the women can be scientists, and there can still be romance, action and intrigue. In zero gravity, nobody can beat you at arm-wrestling! LOL

I can place entire societies side by side, comparing and contrasting them. It would sound like an anthropological study but it's in space, where I can also add all the science and whizz-bang gadgetry to the story that my geek heart desires. I can have a society where only a small contingent of men survive, and another where genetic mutations are causing a population crash, and wonder if the representatives of those societies can put their own problems aside long enough to come up with the obvious solution to their problems (The Commander's Slave).

And let's not forget the aliens. Can a tired widowed engineer really find the strength within herself to grab a chance at happiness with someone so divorced from her reality, a male-dominant hermaphrodite who also happens to be an ex-criminal (Prime Suspect)? Will a ship's commander give her heart a chance when confronted by a shapeshifter alien that she's been taught is the enemy of all humanity (On Bliss)?

But we even have alienness within ourselves that can be explored. Difference is not just outside our skins but underneath it too. How do you love a man who forgets you every two days (In Enemy Hands)? Can we rise above our upbringing (A Pirate's Passion)? Can a mercenary find charity in her heart for someone else? And can her pursuer (Combat!)?

I don't need to go to different genres in order to present these thought experiments to you: contemporary for one, historical for another, suspense for a third. SFR can easily encompass all this and much more, as previous contributors to this Parallel Universe have no doubt exhibited. By placing all these stories within a single framework, I can concentrate more on what I want to say, how the characters behave and grow, how their society functions, rather than the established guidelines of several genres and sub-genres.

By being so elastic, so open to diversity, SFR encompasses us all, each and every one of a diverse set of voices speaking to you this month. All we need now are the readers. Can we count on you?


Kaz Augustin is a Malaysian-born writer of science-fiction, romance, and permutations of the two. Her website is at, she blogs at and she writes about food (as all good Malaysians do!) at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter; just look for “ksaugustin”.